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A TIME FOR HERITAGE WHAT ST. PADDY’S DAY MEANS TO ME
Well, the Buffalo Bayou won’t be dyed green, but our city will still be getting into the St. Paddy’s Day spirit! The holiday always lands right in the middle of Lent, but thankfully the Lutheran Church gives me a pass to celebrate my heritage. As Martin Luther himself said, “It’s better to think of church in the ale house than to think of the ale house in church.” So this March 17, I’ll raise a pint to a fifth-century Catholic bishop for banishing snakes from Ireland and try not to think too hard about the details. Like many Irish-Americans, St. Patrick’s Day is more about celebrating our family’s heritage than anything else. We still have strong roots tying us back to the old country, and it’s great to have a time of year set aside to honor that storied ancestry. You see, “Brannon” used to be “O’Brennan” when my ancestors lived in County Cork. My great-great-grandparents were forced to flee starvation and turmoil in the mid-1800s, when the potato famine struck. We actually have a copy of the logbook they signed at Ellis Island. Looking at the signature still gives me goosebumps. I imagine my family amid the tired, huddled masses of Europeans, choosing a new name for a new country. When it was their turn to sign, did they have to steady their hands against tremors of hope and fear? Or were they simply relieved to be on dry land after an exhausting Atlantic crossing? It’s amazing how a signature on a piece of paper can carry so much weight.
along the railroad lines. They started as laborers, laying the tracks that tied our young nation together. This connection to the railroad is as recent as my grandfather. He wasn’t hammering railway spikes, though. He’d made his way to engineer. As the dates on the documents draw closer to our own time, the hand-scrawled notes are gradually replaced by the deliberate punchings of early typewriters. Over the course of this paper journey there are splashes of color, like a great-uncle who was ambushed by bootleggers while riding his police motorcycle. One pattern holds true, though: Brannons have boys. Well, until my daughter came along, that is. For five generations, my dad’s side has only had sons. The news that my wife and I would give birth to a little girl was such big news to our extended family that we actually got calls from Ireland! My parents go to visit our Irish relatives every year, so it’s not like we’re out of touch. Still, getting those long- distance calls two decades ago was quite the memorable experience! I still remember some distant relative telling me in a thick brogue over the receiver, “Ye forgot to put the stem on the apple, boy-o!” So as distant as the past may seem, modern databases and telecommunications have done wonders to bridge the gap. Our family’s story is just one bright green thread woven into the tapestry of our nation’s identity. Still, being able to trace the bobs and weaves of that thread, from the mouth of the Hudson to the western plains, has been an eye-opening experience. That’s why this St. Paddy’s Day, I’ll be toasting the past generations of Brannons, O’Brannons, and the ones who will follow in the future.
“Looking at the signature still gives me goosebumps. I imagine my family amid the tired, huddled masses of Europeans, choosing a new name for a new country.”
We have this document and more thanks to my mother. She’s become quite the historian in her spare time, searching Ancestry.com and the Mormon databases for snippets of our family’s story that would otherwise be lost. What she’s collected over the years is fascinating.
–Bra nnon Lloyd
From these records, marriage licenses, and ephemera of a bygone time, it became possible to trace the Brannon’s westward migration
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